What Happened – A Review

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Now free from the constraints of running, Hillary takes you inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules. This is her most personal memoir yet.

I had a lot of preconceived notions about Hillary Clinton before I read this book, thanks to the American media. I thought something was off with her even though I couldn’t point to what it was. I didn’t think anybody who lost a presidential race would write anything in good faith.

But she blew me away.

I am very curious about the life of politicians – about how they manage life when their work is so important. I bought the book only due to that curiosity.

I went in expecting fluff. But ‘What Happened’ was pure substance.

“I blamed myself. My worst fears about my limitations as a candidate had come true.”

I don’t see a lot of politicians who are so open about their failures and missteps. I particularly liked that she brought up the incident where she misspoke about coal miners, but not to try and wiggle out of it. In fact, there is no way she could win anyone over by talking about it but she did because this book was about analysing why she lost and that was a part of it.

“I have come to terms with the fact that a lot of people—millions and millions of people—decided they just didn’t like me. Imagine what that feels like. It hurts. And it’s a hard thing to accept. But there’s no getting around it.”

She was very self-aware. Initially, I was questioning everything she said (Is this true? Is she exaggerating?). But her thoughts on the misinformation campaign against her and the war against truth felt so right that I shut off that voice. It was as if she knew what someone like me, who’s heard bad things about her, was thinking and has done her best to include them in her rhetoric.

“Politics [will] grind to a halt if no one is actually listening to one another or reading the briefings or making plans that have a chance of working. I guess that might be considered boring. I don’t find it boring, but you might. But here’s the thing: someone has to do it.”

I admire people who are meticulous and hard working, who are willing to do boring, unsexy work if it has to be done. It’s very unfair that charming and controversial politicians are often more successful than the hardworking ones. I could see that HRC was someone like that – the most qualified person to run for office let down by her absence of charm.

She dedicates a chapter to what she would have done in her first 100 days as the President. She had great ideas (as anybody who’s running for office should), her plans made sense and given that she is so practical (“I’ve always believed that it’s dangerous to make big promises if you have no idea how you’re going to keep them”), I think she would have found ways to make it happen.

I agreed with her views on activism for the sake of disruption (“I’ve never had much respect for activists who are willing to sit out elections, waste their votes, or tear down well-meaning allies rather than engage constructively”). Her chapter about Putin was quite entertaining, to be honest (“Putin doesn’t respect women and despises anyone who stands up to him, so I’m a double problem”). Her final call for love, kindness, doing all the good that you can do and for being open to listening to dissenting voices (“We can keep an open mind and be willing to change our minds from time to time”) made me feel hopeful and sad at the same time.

Above everything, I was surprised by how fair she was. She talked about what the former FBI director Comey’s missteps cost her. I am far, far away from any of this but it made my blood boil. Anybody else in her position would have accused him of being corrupt or of having had evil intentions. But she surprised me again by making a fair assessment of what would have been running through his mind when he had the press conference a few days before the election:

“I don’t know if he had anything against me personally, or if he thought I was going to win the election and worried that if he didn’t speak out he’d later be attacked by Republicans or his own agents. What I do know, though, is that when you’re the head of an agency as important as the FBI, you have to care a lot more about how things really are than how they look, and you have to be willing to take the heat that goes along with the big job.”

She understood him but that didn’t mean that she spared him.

From big policy ideas to tiny tidbits about her personal life, I loved everything she had to say. I hope she writes more. I hope more people read the book before telling her to shut up already.

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